Current approaches to obesity management in UK Primary Care: the Counterweight Programme

Rachel Laws
Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics: the Official Journal of the British Dietetic Association 2004, 17 (3): 183-90

BACKGROUND/AIMS: Primary care is expected to develop strategies to manage obese patients as part of coronary heart disease and diabetes national service frameworks. Little is known about current management practices for obesity in this setting. The aim of this study is to examine current approaches to obesity management in UK primary care and to identify potential gaps in care.

METHOD: A total of 141 general practitioners (GPs) and 66 practice nurses (PNs) from 40 primary care practices participated in structured interviews to examine clinician self-reported approaches to obesity management. Medical records were also reviewed for 100 randomly selected obese patients from each practice [body mass index (BMI) >/=30 kg m(-2), n = 4000] to review rates of diet counselling, dietetic or obesity centre referrals, and use of anti-obesity medication. Computerized medical records for the total practice population (n = 206 341, 18-75 years) were searched to examine the proportion of patients with a weight/BMI ever recorded.

RESULTS: Eighty-three per cent of GPs and 97% of PNs reported that they would raise weight as an issue with obese patients (P < 0.01). Few GPs (15%) reported spending up to 10 min in a consultation discussing weight-related issues, compared with PNs (76%; P < 0.001). Over 18 months, practice-based diet counselling (20%), dietetic (4%) and obesity centre (1%) referrals, and any anti-obesity medication (2%) were recorded. BMI was recorded for 64.2% of patients and apparent prevalence of obesity was less than expected.

CONCLUSION: Obesity is under-recognized in primary care even in these 40 practices with an interest in weight management. Weight management appears to be based on brief opportunistic intervention undertaken mainly by PNs. While clinicians report the use of external sources of support, few patients are referred, with practice-based counselling being the most common intervention.

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